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In the news: New Ebola outbreak in northwestern Congo

Congo is struggling with measles, COVID-19, and now a fresh Ebola outbreak.

Patients sit at a health centre in Wangata in 2018
Patients sit at the health centre during an Ebola vaccination campaign in May 2018 in Wangata, a commune in Mbandaka in Équateur Province. Ebola has resurfaced in Mbandaka. (Kenny Katombe/REUTERS)

A new Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed the lives of at least five people in the northwestern port city of Mbandaka.

The deaths in Mbandaka occurred between 18-30 May, but were only confirmed as Ebola-related on Sunday. Four additional people – all contacts of the deceased and including the child of one of the fatal cases – are being treated in an isolation unit in one of the city’s hospitals, said UNICEF. It is likely more people will be identified as Ebola-positive as tracing is ramped up, noted the World Health Organisation.

Read more → Inside Congo’s Ebola emergency

“This is a reminder that COVID-19 is not the only health threat people face,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general.

An earlier Ebola outbreak in 2018 in Mbandaka killed 33 people and infected 54, but was quickly brought under control. The city, at the junction of the Congo and Ruki Rivers, is a major trade hub and home to 1.2 million people. It is just 300 kilometres from the densely populated capital, Kinshasa, which raises the stakes for its rapid containment.

The resurfacing of Ebola in Mbandaka comes as the main outbreak in the eastern provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri – which has claimed more than 2,200 lives – is hoped to be in its final stages. On 14 May, the Ministry of Health began a six-week countdown to the declaration of the outbreak’s end. In April, that announcement was only days away, but then put on hold with the discovery of a new cluster of cases.

Congo is also struggling with one of the world’s largest measles outbreaks, with 332,000 cases and 6,779 deaths reported since 2019. As of 2 June, officials have also reported 3,326 COVID-19 cases and 72 deaths.

– Obi Anyadike

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